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August 13, 2006

Almonds (Recipe: cod with raisins, nuts and apples)

Almonds

I'm a sucker for princess tales, especially when food is involved.

According to Greek mythology, the lovely princess Phyllis was dumped at the altar on her wedding day by Demophon, her fiance. She waited for years for him to return to her (why, we wonder?), but eventually she died of a broken heart.

The gods took pity and transformed her into an almond tree. When Demophon wised up and returned to find Phyllis turned into a flowerless tree, he embraced her, and the tree burst into bloom, proving that his love was greater than death — or that he loved almonds.

Almonds are an ancient food, domesticated as early as 3000 BC; archaeologists even found almonds in King Tut's tomb. Though they are in the rose genus, almonds most closely resemble peaches; in fact, in commercial production the almond tree rootstock frequently is grafted onto peach trees, giving the trunks a lumpy-bumpy appearance. Spanish missionaries brought almonds to California, which produces 100% of the US supply, and 80% of the world supply.

On the nutrition front, almonds are high in antioxidants and Vitamin E, and may help lower LDL (the bad cholesterol).

On the culinary front, almonds really shine. Sure, you can sprinkle them on salads, and it's fun to smash them with a nutcracker. For a lower-impact cooking experience, try ginger chicken with almonds, or explore some of the great dishes of the Spanish culinary repertoire: gazpacho made with almonds, either green (with grapes) or white (no grapes); or roast chicken with almonds and pine nuts stuffed under the skin; or the recipe below, inspired by a popular tapas dish.

After all, Spain brought us those almonds in the first place.

Cod with raisins, nuts and apples

When you decide to try a new recipe, don't let the fact that you're missing half of the ingredients stop you. Be creative — which is just what my friend Candy and I did last Thanksgiving, when we added this dish to our holiday tapas menu. (The best part of this story is that we didn't have raisins, so we picked a handful out of a box of Raisin Bran cereal!) Our cooking group made this twist on a Penelope Casas recipe for salt cod tapas, and they loved it. Serves 6 as an appetizer, or 3 as a main dish with some saffron rice and steamed green vegetable. Can be doubled.

Ingredients

2 Tbsp golden raisins
1-1/4 lb fresh cod fillet
Flour for dusting
6 Tbsp olive oil
2 1/4-inch thick slices of crusty loaf bread
6 Tbsp finely chopped onion
2 small tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
2 Tbsp pine nuts
1 cup chicken broth (low-sodium canned or homemade)
Fresh ground white pepper
8 blanched almonds, lightly toasted, or additional pine nuts
1/2 large tart apple, peeled, cored and chopped
Salt, to taste
1-2 cloves garlic, minced

Directions

Soak the raisins in warm water to cover for up to 2 hours.

Dry the cod on paper towels and cut into large chunks. Dust with flour. Heat 4 Tbsp of oil in a shallow casserole. Fry the bread on both sides until it is golden. Remove bread to a food processor or blender. Fry the cod in the same oil quickly, about 1 minute per side (add more oil if necessary). Remove to a warm dish. Wipe out the pan, but do not wash it.

Heat the remaining oil and sauté onion until it is wilted. Add tomato and cook for 3 minutes. Drain the raisins and stir them in, along with the pine nuts, broth, and white pepper. Cover and cook for 10 minutes.

WHILE THE SAUCE IS COOKING, in the food processor grind the bread with the almonds. With the motor running, add a few Tbsp of sauce from the casserole and process until the mixture is as smooth as possible. Add bread mixture to the casserole and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Add the cod, apple and garlic, and cook 10 minutes more, adding a little water or chicken broth if the sauce thickens too much. Taste for salt. Serve hot or at room temperature.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Comments

Best of all, even better than the unusual recipe, is your advice about missing ingredients. How often I've let that stand in my way of trying a new recipe. No more. Thanks.

Jane, the moral of the story is....keep a box of raisin bran cereal on hand at all times! We laughed so hard as we poured the cereal into a bowl and picked out the raisins. Those stories, those triumphs, and yes, the occasional cooking disasters, are the best memories.

...and for something wickedly sweet..."Danielson Farmers' Market Raspberry Almond Bars"

1/2 cup butter
1 pkg. (10-12 ounces) vanilla or white chips, divided
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. pure almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
1/4 cup sliced almonds

In a saucepan, melt butter. Remove from the heat; add 1 cup chips (do not stir).
In a small mixing bowl, beat eggs until foamy; gradually add sugar.
Stir in chip mixture and almond extract.
Combine flour and salt; add to egg mixture just until combined.
Spread half of the batter into a greased 9 inch square baking pan. Bake at 325 for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt jam; spread over warm crust. Stir remaining chips into the remaining batter; drop by teaspoonsful over the jam layer.
Sprinkle with almonds.
Bake 30-35 minutes longer or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack.
Cut into bars.
Yield: 2 dozen.
Nutritional information: you don't want to know.

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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